Holiday Drama Middle School

In the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Bay St. Louis, Mardi Gras was a much bigger social time than Christmas; balls for the adults, and King Cake Parties for the kids, and parades for everyone.

Elizabeth (Beth) Wilkinson was finishing the invitations to her Christmas Cookie Exchange. This was the first time she had tried to host a social event since moving here just over two years ago.

Beth’s friend Helene Jourdan had been after her to be more involved in the community, but she was so busy raising two teenagers that she just didn’t have time to plan and organize any events. 

“It’s about time you show off that historic home of yours,” Helene had said over the phone in November. 

A Christmas Cookie Exchange, Beth figured, should not be too much work since other people were baking their own cookies. She had a lot of understatements this year, but this topped them all. 

Helene helped Beth finalize the invitation list. Beth added a few of the mothers of children that went to school with her children.

She was Beth to her friends, but she signed the last card, “Sincerely, Elizabeth.” This person was not a friend.  

Beth was hesitant to get close to anyone. There was so much about her that she would rather people in this small town not know. Like the fact that she had been married before; or that her son was not Jim’s and that she was not Mallory’s mother.

Beth met her first husband in the bookstore at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. She loved his blue eyes and Russian accent and the fact that he always treated her to the best of everything. She was an Early Childhood Education major but dropped out at 20 years old when he proposed. 

Beth never really understood how Vasili’s Import-Export Business worked, but after they married the business provided her plenty of opportunities to have any work done; first her teeth, then her nose. Vasili travelled internationally for weeks at a time, but he was home long enough to sire their son, Mikhail. After that Vasili recommended Beth have a tummy tuck, a tubal ligation, and, of course, a boob job, which she dutifully did.

After Vasili had been on travel for a few weeks, two men in suits came to the door. Vasili had been arrested by the FBI. All their belongings were impounded. She and two-year-old Mikhail were evicted and their house and belongings were sold at auction. 

She was so clueless of her husband’s drug empire that she was of no help to the Feds. Beth also learned that she was not by any means Vasili's only love. Vasili had children by at least three other women. He was wanted in two states and in Ukraine. 

Penniless, Beth and Mikhail retreated to her parent’s house on Dauphin Island, south of Mobile. Vasili ignored her requests to meet with her or see Mikhail, so she finalized her divorce.

Two years later when her parent’s neighbors were having a pool installed, she offered cold water to a foreman named Jim and his workers.

Jim was not your average foreman. First, he was an older college student. He was studying while working with his father’s fiberglass pool company. It was a lucky coincidence, since Jim usually worked in the factory, but during the busy season he helped out in the field. 

Second, Jim was just back from Afghanistan. As Petty Officer Wilkinson, he had finished six years with the Seabees at Bagram Air Base. That experience convinced him to become an engineer. It also helped him afford tuition.

Third, while at Bagram, Jim got a letter that changed his life. It was from his old girlfriend Julie who said that Jim’s parents would have their daughter when he got home – a daughter that he never knew he had. 

By the time he completed his discharge, Julie was long gone, leaving no change of address. Jim's mother named his daughter Mallory because she always thought it was a pretty name.  

Mallory was three-years-old when Jim met Beth. Mikhail was four. Jim and Mallory made the fifty mile trip from the town of Wilmer to spend time with Beth and Mikhail at the beach. Sometimes she would drive to Jim’s parent’s house on Big Creek Lake.

They were excited, but by waiting until he finished his degree, Jim and Beth went into marriage with their eyes wide open. While Beth was beautiful she still had self-esteem issues because of all the work that was done on her to please Vasili.

They moved into Jim’s parent’s big house on the lake. It was convenient since the pool manufacturing facility was also on the land. Jim’s mom and dad loved watching the kids grow.

Two broken people had found love and became a family. It seemed like a nice story, but not something that Beth was anxious for other women to know about. 

Jim had been toying with the idea of making fiberglass boats, which used the same technology and was more lucrative than swimming pools. He found a great deal on an old factory near Kiln, Mississippi. It had easy access to Bayou Talla, which fed into the Bay of St. Louis.

He had recently expanded his operation to two-shift production, and he worked long hours training and spot-checking new workers.

They had settled into life in Bay St. Louis. Jim liked to take Mikhail fishing and they worked on projects around the house. He helped Mallory with her math and science. He was a good listener, which she also liked.

Jim became an impressive bridge player. He and Beth did play in a club where four or six couples would get together and play a tournament. He was such an aggressive bidder that he usually won the bid, which meant that Beth's hand was laid down as 'the Dummy' and Jim played both hands.

Before school started, Beth took Mikhail, now fourteen, and Mallory to visit Jim's parents and Beth's recently widowed mother in Mobile. Jim had planned to go but apologized at the last minute because he needed to oversee repairs to the facility’s ventilation system, so production could resume Monday morning. 

A few weeks ago she remembered that weekend. She was cleaning and found a ring under her bed. It wasn’t her ring. Since all her jewelry from Vasili was sold at auction for pennies on the dollar, flashy jewelry made her feel sick at her stomach. Beth only had two rings; both were from Jim, an engagement ring and a wedding band. She wore them whenever she was awake and not doing dishes.

The day of the cookie exchange came quickly. Helene arrived early to help set-up. Helene agreed that because there was no coat closet the ladies could just lay their coats on Beth’s bed. 

Beth felt overdressed in her favorite black dress - right up until the ladies began arriving with nicer dresses, furs, pearls or gold necklaces. Mallory looked lovely while helping to host. Mikhail and Jim went out to sight rifles at a shooting range then maybe take in an action movie. 

Soft drinks and coffee were ready, but Helene had set up a more popular mixed drink bar. She was making screwdrivers, mimosas, sangria, mojitos, and even Bloody Marys.  

Beth stuck to sweet tea and sampled a few of the cookies but set most of hers aside for the boys to sample later. She was surprised how many ladies came and more surprised by some ladies that were invited second-hand saying they were ‘plus ones’. 


Beverly Hartley showed up looking like an astronaut’s wife from the sixties. She wore a full-length mink fur with a sleeveless pink one-piece dress and a single strand of pearls. Her Marilyn Monroe hairstyle had been professionally coiffed.

Helene began to introduce her to Beth, but was cut off.

“Beth?” Beverly said loudly. “We know each other. We played bridge together! Yet, you wrote ‘Elizabeth’ on the invitation? How formal have we gotten? You and I should be on a first-name basis, you know like people who share things.”

Beth felt her skin crawl.

“So, where is that clever husband of yours?” Beverly asked waving her hand holding a martini which sloshed recklessly but didn’t spill a drop. “I think he took all the tricks that night.” 

“I wouldn’t know. I was making coffee in the kitchen most of the night,” Beth said laughing weakly. She excused herself before making a comment about ‘tricks’.

Beth met two other women. Fran Barker was an unassuming woman with a quite demeanor, an uber-thin waist, and a cute turned-up nose. Fran wore a pastel plaid dress. Her children knew Mallory and Mikhail from school. Fran was talking with Stephanie Holbrooks, a giant of a woman who conducting a taste test of all the cookies multiple times. 

Beth noticed an elderly woman enter. She was wearing a light fur, maybe sable, and immediately locked eyes with Beth. Before she could find Helene. The elderly woman wrapped her arms around Beth. Her thick Cajun accent made it hard for Beth to understand her, so Beth just smiled and said, “My pleasure,” every time this much older woman said something that sounded like a compliment. 

Suddenly Helene appeared and hugged the woman. “Mrs. Dilaberto!” she said drawing everyone’s attention. “Everyone this is Mrs. Dilaberto, Buddy D’s sister!

Beth, being new in town, didn’t know the famous sports announcer from WWL in New Orleans, but all the ladies began applauding and whispering to each other. Still not sure who she was, Beth took her coat as the woman retrieved a piece of paper from the pocket. 

“Mrs. D,” Helene announced, “as many of you know, is a local historian. She has a special presentation,” to which everyone applauded.

“I would like to read something I found,” the older woman began adjusting her glasses from her gold chain. 

Mallory took the coat from Beth and rubbing it whispered, “Is this real?” to which Beth shrugged. Mallory took it to the master bedroom. 

“127 Ulman Avenue,” Mrs. Dilaberto began, “is one of the premier historic houses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Built about the 1850s, at the beginning of the great Yellow Fever Epidemic, the house has survived dozens of hurricanes including the eye of many unnamed hurricanes in 1855, 1860, 1893, 1901, 1906, 1915, 1947, and then Betsy, Camille, Bob, and, of course, Katrina.”

At the word Katrina, many in the crowd hung their heads. 

After a moment of silence, the older woman recovered. “I see there is a floor vent there. One report states that the family stayed to ride out Katrina and that the only place that water came into this house was through that furnace.” Again the room was silent and some ladies moved to get a better look at the grating covering the floor furnace.

Beth did not know that, but had found that the grate was too hot to stand on and had melted a grid in the soles of Mikhail’s wet sneakers. 

“I believe that these tongue-in-groove ceilings are a full fourteen feet high,” she resumed, “I was raised in a similar house that burned down, like so many this age have. We needed these high ceilings to survive the heat in summers before air conditioning,” which brought a knowing laugh from some, but more from those holding mixed drinks. 

She appeared to be tiring, “This is one of the oldest sections of town and doctors and lawyers have lived and practiced from this house on this corner or in the out building. It has been a treasure to the community. I would like to return to discuss having your house placed on the Historic Registry. I look forward to seeing the entirety.” 

The room erupted in applause, for which Beth was not prepared. She was trying to think what ‘entirety’ meant and then regretted not cleaning every closet. 

Beth felt that, as host, she needed to speak. She began, “Thank you Mrs. Dilaberto -.”

“Please, Edna,” she said patting Beth’s hand as someone took a flash photo.

“Thank you, Edna,” Beth resumed. “There’s so much I don’t know about this house and our town. Thank you so much.” Then addressing everyone she added, “I am so pleased you could all come to share some holiday cheer and to see the inside of this old house. But you know,” she continued unscripted, “a house is just a building. It’s family and fond memories that make a house a home,” she said nodding at Mallory as other ladies agreed. 

“In the past, this house has meant a lot to the community and I hope it can mean a lot in the future. Like many of us, this house has survived some rough times and I hope we all can come through our rough times with nothing more than a little water coming through the vent. I hope any of you that want to stop by for a visit and a cup of coffee will feel welcome here,” Beth added surprising herself with her hospitality. 

Everyone applauded and some raised their drinks. 

“Well bless your heart,” came a loud voice from the back of the room. 

Beverly Hartley had been standing at the door to the bedroom. She stumbled forward, apparently a few martinis over the legal limit. 

“Lecturing to us at what makes a ‘house a home’,” she said using air quotes and this time sloshing a lot of martini on the hardwood flooring. 

She was wearing her fur coat, but something looked out of place to Beth. She was wearing one bright red earring. 

“See this earring?” she said pointing with the nearly empty martini glass still sloshing. “It was in the little wooden jewelry box, on your dresser back there,” she said pointing with her martini. “I hope you don’t mind. It’s quite a unique earring, I’d say.” 

The crowd parted as she swerved her way to Beth stumbling slightly on the transition to the carpeting. 

“You know what, though? I’ve got one just like it at home. Just one.” Beverly said slurring her words and turning to the crowd. “You know where I got mine? I found it in the couch, down in between the cushions.”  

Some in the crowd looked at Beth in disdain. Others just looked down and away. 

“I’ve never seen it before,” Beth said ready to catch Beverly if she fell. 

“You’re a big Bridge player right?” Beverly asked. “Well, I say, you’re bluffing,” Beverly said breathing close to Beth’s face with enough vodka to light a fire. 

“Ok, Beverly, I think you’ve said your peace,” Helene said stepping forward and escorting Beverly out to her car. Helene turned back to Beth and mouthed, “call me later.” 

“I was leaving anyway,” Beverly said over her shoulder toward Beth. “I’m taking this earring,” she shouted from outside.

“Ok, well, that was interesting,” Beth said still confused about what happened. “We have travel cups for a coffee to-go,” she said. “We also have some Tupperware and aluminum foil that you are welcome to use to get these delicious cookies out of here. 

Women were gathering their coats and their cookie trays. Only a few made eye contact with Beth. Mallory was helping women in the bedroom with their coats. Many were walking home, and those few who had driven had been responsible drinkers. 

Before leaving, Fran Barker with a tear in her eye, rubbed Beth on the shoulder, “I’ll be back for that coffee.”

After several minutes, Stephanie Holbrooks was the only woman left. She was washing dishes and stacking them in the open dishwasher. 

“You don’t have to do that Mrs. Holbrooks,” Beth said with a sniffle.

“Had to,” she said drying her hands having already finished.

“And it’s Steph now to you. Who-boy! That was a floor show I never expected! Anyone who can get that Beverly Hartley worked up like that is alright in my book.” 

“You don’t believe her?”

“Heck no! I’ve met her husband. He’s a lech; always leering at women. He’s rude and smelly!” she said laughing. “You, I can tell, are too cautious for him. You’ve been set up.”

“Oh, of course!” Beth said as Mallory walked in. “Wait here.” 

She returned with a camera. “It’s from Mikhail’s drone. I put it on the shelf. I found a ring under my bed, so I set this up to see if anyone looked for it.”

“Oops,” Mallory said. “I was supposed to tell you about the ring. Grandma slipped that in your suitcase. It belonged to your grandma. It’s for Mikhail when he gets serious about a girl. I’m sorry, Mom, I forgot.”  

Both Steph and Beth were quiet until, Beth began laughing, “Well, don’t I feel silly?” 

With help from Mallory, they crowded around and began watching the three inch screen. Mallory fast-forwarded to where someone was at the jewelry box. “Stop,” Beth said. 

“I know mom,” Mallory said irritably. 

“Is that Helene?” Steph asked. 

“Yep. First one here. Looks like she planted the earring. She is, or was, one of my best friends,” Beth confirmed.

“What are you going to do, mom?” Mallory asked. 

Beth looked at Steph and smiled, “Other than making a copy of this?”

“That woman punished herself!” Steph said waving her hand in front of her nose.

Beth laughed. “I’m going to hug your dad and tell him all about this.” 

“Amen, sister,” Steph said picking up two plastic containers full of cookies. “Big boys at my house!”

“Thanks for a great time!” she said. "By the way, nice house,” she said with a wink turning to leave. 


December 11, 2020 05:11

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Claire Tennant
05:09 Dec 18, 2020

Boy, what a great twist Here we are thinking of cookies and drink and building a future with new friends and a cunning ploy to catch a thief!. Loved it, you captured the prompt beautifully Well done


Dan Taylor
20:38 Dec 21, 2020

Thank you for reading and taking the time to answer. Just character development from a novel I'm working on about an interesting small town. Best wishes!


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Mary Bendickson
23:20 Mar 04, 2023

Great attention to detail.


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